What is Anxiety?
The mind, body, and spirit are intricately linked. Anxiety is a condition that originates in the mind, causing physiological changes similar to the stress response in the body. Ayurvedically speaking, anxiety is a dosha imbalance where excess vata dosha accumulates in the nervous system.
Because we are in the height of vata season, it is a common time to experience increased anxiety in the form of insomnia, a restless mind, nervousness, panic and/or fearful thoughts. Ayurveda offers time-tested wisdom regarding diet, lifestyle, herbal remedies, yoga, meditation, and pranayama to help bring balance to the body and ease anxiety.
What Ayurveda Says!
The belief of Ayurveda is that the body is born with an inherent wisdom to always return to a healthy state of blissful mind, body, and spirit. In the case of occasional anxiety, Ayurveda teaches the tools to achieve a natural, healthful life by first identifying and removing the cause of the anxiety, whether it be a vata-aggravating diet or lifestyle, habitual negative thinking, or an unhealthy reaction to stress, and then balance the doshas within the body. The Ayurvedic approach to cultivating a sense of calm and well-being is to balance vata dosha.
Anxiety disorders are the most common psychiatric illnesses affecting children and adults. An estimated 40 million American adults suffer from anxiety disorders. Only about one-third of those suffering from an anxiety disorder receive treatment, even though the disorders are highly treatable.
- Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18% of the population. (Source: National Institute of Mental Health)
- Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only about one-third of those suffering receive treatment.
- Anxiety disorders cost the U.S. more than $42 billion a year, almost one-third of the country’s $148 billion total mental health bill, according to “The Economic Burden of Anxiety Disorders,” a study commissioned by ADAA (The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 60(7), July 1999).
How To Use Ayurveda for Anxiety
Although antidepressants are safe and effective for many people, they may be risky for children, teens and young adults.
A “black box” warning—the most serious type of warning that a prescription can carry—has been added to the labels of antidepressants.
The labels now warn that antidepressants may cause some people to have suicidal thoughts or make suicide attempts. For this reason, anyone taking an antidepressant should be monitored closely, especially when they first start taking the medication.
Pranayama: Breathing Exercises
Exercising the breath helps to circulate prana or life force throughout the body. The breathing of an anxious person is usually shallow, light, and tends to be rapid. A person can feel easily fatigued because they are not able to access energy that is released from the absorption of prana. Learning to slow the rate of breathing and move the breath deep into the abdomen can decrease anxiety and help to balance other symptoms of anxiety. A simple practice of deep abdominal breathing for ten rounds whenever anxious or anticipating anxiety can help calm the body and mind.
Yogasana: Yoga Postures
Come to a wall and get into the fetal position lying on either side of your body. Get your buttocks as close to the wall as possible. Roll on to your back and straighten your legs to the wall. The backs of the thighs, calves and/or heels will rest on the wall. Extend the arms out along the ground, create some space in the armpits and face the palms up. Close the eyes and restore yourself for 5-15 minutes.
Vata Focus: Ground Down
Rest and rejuvenate. Feel the flow of blood pool in the pelvic region as it nourishes the organs. Have the internal gaze be at your heart. Imagining weight on the feet or pelvis helps to alleviate vata by creating a sense of heaviness.
Meditation: Inner Peace
Meditation is an invaluable tool for managing stress and easing anxiety. When practiced regularly, you experience a deep sense of peace. As a result, you will be able to carry that sense of calm into your everyday life. It will become second nature to meet challenges with peace and equanimity.
- Sit quietly, firmly rooted, focusing on the crown of your head and your breath.
- Bring your awareness to the natural rhythm of your breath.
- Notice the gentle inhalation, exhalation, and the short pause of retention in between.
- If the mind begins to wander, invite it back to the breath.
- Allow thoughts to ebb and flow with the breath, staying perfectly present in each moment.
- Practice meditating 10-20 minutes every day.
Shiro-Abhyanga: Head Massage with medicated oils
According to Ayurveda, abhyanga (self oil massage) is an important component of a vata-pacifying routine. The Sanskrit word sneha can be translated as both “oil” and “love”. It is believed that the effects of abhyanga are similar to those received when one is saturated with love. Like the experience of being loved, abhyanga can give a deep feeling of stability, safety, and warmth. This practice nourishes and strengthens the body, encourages regular sleep patterns, stimulates internal organs, enhances blood circulation, and can significantly reduce vata. To help reduce vata, Sesame Oil or coconut oil can be used.
Meta: Ayurvedically, anxiety is a dosha imbalance where excess vata dosha accumulates in the nervous system. Calming Vata dosha can help you reduce anxiety.